The 12th state Senate District straddles two worlds.
To the west is meticulously planned, predominantly liberal Columbia, with its cul-de-sacs, swimming pools and community centers. But the eastern part of the district includes such older, more conservative working-class communities as Lansdowne and Arbutus -- the core of incumbent Sen. Nancy L. Murphy's support.
Now, Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Columbia Democrat and former Howard County state senator, is trying to unseat Ms. Murphy, 64, a Catonsville Realtor and 12-year Democratic lawmaker, by rallying the diverse new district around one issue: gun control.
Thursday, he stood with Sarah Brady, chairwoman of Washington-based Handgun Control Inc., and accepted the organization's endorsement as the only District 12 candidate who supports comprehensive gun control legislation, including licensing of handgun owners and registration of handgun transfers.
Ms. Brady is the wife of James Brady, the former White House official who was severely wounded by a gunman in the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
Also challenging Ms. Murphy for the Democratic nomination in Tuesday's primary are Catonsville developer Thomas E. Booth, 52, and Relay resident Frances Kathleen Ingram, 49, a former teacher.
On the Republican side, two Elkridge residents, David Maier and Christopher Eric Bouchat, are squaring off for the nomination in a district in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1.
The candidates are emphasizing cracking down on crime, raising school performance, reforming welfare and improving the district's older, deteriorating neighborhoods.
Ms. Murphy's challengers also paint her as a career politician trying to buy the election with a campaign fund that totaled more than $200,000, including contributions from numerous special interests.
Several candidates acknowledge that West Columbia is different socioeconomically and philosophically from much of the rest of the district, but say the concerns are the same throughout -- crime and education.
Mr. Kasemeyer, 49, counts on widespread support on gun control from Columbia voters and hopes to pick up votes in Elkridge and southwestern Baltimore County from gun control advocates who otherwise know little about him.
"I believe the principal goal of society in today's world is to reduce the level of violence," Mr. Kasemeyer said at Thursday's press conference, reiterating statements he made at an Aug. 1 conference organized by Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse (MAHA). "Reducing the availability of handguns will go a long way toward that goal."
But Ms. Murphy, who got $4,000 from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, said the real issue is the need to get tough with criminals. "Gun control has little or no effect on crime," she said. "The only way to have an effect is to take back the streets, prosecute, convict and incarcerate those who commit the crimes."
She emphasizes her leadership in Annapolis on anti-crime measures, including her sponsorship this year of a measure that sets tougher minimum sentences for repeat violent offenders, prohibits parole under some circumstances and opens up parole hearings to the public. "That was the most significant bill passed last session," said Ms. Murphy, the Senate's deputy majority whip.
She also sponsored a bill enacted in 1993 that makes it easier for police to arrest stalkers, and a measure last session -- passed by the Senate but killed in the House -- that would have required the registration of pedophiles upon release from prison.
In addition, she sponsored a bill, killed by the Senate this year, which would have locked up three-time violent offenders for life. She said the state should consider treating less-violent criminals who have drug problems by putting them in state hospitals with increased security, freeing up prison space for more violent offenders.
Kevin Kamenetz, Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee chairman, said that crime is "clearly the No. 1 issue" but that it is uncertain whether southwestern Baltimore County voters see gun control as an anti-crime measure.
"I believe voters in the Baltimore County portion of the district have traditionally supported the right to bear arms," he said. "That argument will be best directed toward the Howard County portion of the district."
About 53 percent of the registered voters in the district are from Baltimore County, 47 percent from Howard. The district was contained entirely within Baltimore County before redistricting in 1992. The MAHA group said the new district favors gun control, based on voting results from the 1988 referendum that banned easily concealed handguns.
In addition to her stand on crime, Ms. Murphy stresses her legislative experience, alliances with Senate leaders and work with constituents.